Miral

9 Jan

Title: Miral
Year: 2011
Director: Julian Schnabel
Writer: Rula Jebreal, based on her novel
Starring: Freida Pinto, Hiam Abbass, Yasmine Al Massri, Rula Jebreal, Alexander Siddig, Omar Metwally, Stella Schnabel, Willem Dafoe, Vanessa Redgrave
MPAA Rating: R, some violent content including a sexual assault
Runtime: 112 min
IMDb Rating: 5.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 18%
Metacritic: 45

 

Julian Schnabel is the man that in 2007 gave us The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, one of the ten best films of that year for sure, one that got him an Oscar nomination and that just left me really looking forward to seeing what he would do next. He’s always making films about real stuff, real people, real events, and he always takes his time between them, but so far it had always been more than worth the wait; after his 1996 debut, Basquiat (with Jeffrey Wright in the role of the famous artist), he took four years to then do the exquisite Before Night Falls (which got Javier Bardem a Best Actor Oscar nod for his role as the poet Reinaldo Arenas), and seven years after that to tackle Jean-Dominique Bauby’s gripping story in the aforementioned The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Four extra years have passed for him to give us his latest, Miral, and, unfortunately, his streak of greatness ends at three, as this film was just quite disappointing to me.

Mr. Schnabel’s approach to this film just seemed awfully hesitant to me, and while it’s clear he made this one with the best of intentions, it just ends up feeling messy and confused, and amounting to just a sub-par overall film experience. The film is written by Rula Jebreal, basing it upon her own autobiographical novel, and it tells the story of four women who’ll see their lives be intertwined, as it begins in a warn-torn Jerusalem in the late forties and spans many years to tell a story of the search for justice and hope in a world that in the midst of so much conflict seemed unable to achieve just that.

It just didn’t work for me, it’s not so much a bad film as it is that it just wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. And don’t pay mind to whatever anti-Israel or pro-Palestine labels that have been set upon this film, it’s not offensive at all, nor is it particularly provocative. It’s just a well-intentioned film that just doesn’t get its act together, a film that’s about this complex and interesting stuff but that’s just been beaten to the ground already, and in this approach, in which Mr. Schnabel isn’t as present as he usually is, it thus becomes just so ordinary that one wouldn’t be blamed for losing interest. And it’s sad, you know, watching such a talented filmmaker that’s been so great at presenting real life stories with a lot of emotion that sets them apart now delivering a work that’s like so many trite, run-of-the-mill biopics.

Hiam Abbass is great in this film, though, as she plays Hind Husseini, a woman who, after a massacre, opens up an orphanage for some refugee children that quickly becomes home to a couple thousand of them, doing all of that under the conviction that education would pave the way for a world of peace, showing that strength doesn’t have to be linked to violence, and advising the kids under her care to stay out of politics. Those ideas are the ones that come into conflict with the titular character, a young Arab woman played by Freida Pinto who was left in the orphanage by her father after the death of her mother, and while her father and Hind want her to stay away from political activities, her teenage desire to rebel, to act out and be heard, to feel free after being confined all her life are the ones that will give the movie a pulse.

It’s just that that pulse is never beating strong enough; Mr. Schnabel doesn’t succeed in stimulating our minds, like he didn’t really know what buttons to push, not knowing what situations to flesh out, and thus delivering a rather dull end product. I haven’t particularly loved Freida Pinto as much as others seem to do, though I still think she’s a decent actress, and, though a bit shallow, her performance isn’t what’s wrong here, it’s just the character isn’t used for much of substance. Much like Ms. Abbass’ really fine performance, the one that weaves together the stories of the four women, as she portrays a fascinating real-life person, is just gone to waste in the film’s portrayal of Husseini that’s nothing new and just goes by rather unnoticed.

The script is just so chock-full of messages and statements that try, but fail, to sound compelling and rousing, that they make the characters sound ridiculous, as if they were reading aloud political pamphlets instead of just talking like regular people would. Not to mention that, while undeniably gorgeous, the aesthetic stylings of Mr. Schnabel with cinematographer Eric Gautier (who worked on the beautiful Into the Wild and The Motorcycle Diaries) fill the frames with colors and beauty that just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film. That visual stuff gets confusing, it distracts from the message, and solidifies my statement that no one in this film seemed to know what to do with it; maybe Ms. Jebreal shouldn’t have adapted her own novel, maybe a new viewpoint was needed to take this coming-of-age tale into the fully formed, politically and religious complex film it thought it was.

Grade: C+

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